God was surely in a light mood when he created the valley that descends from the granite hills of Washington down into Chelsea and Tunbridge. It’s like no other place on earth as you wind along the rolling meadows and maple-clad dumplings down Route 110 and its accompanying brook. There’s a surprise around every turn, whether a herd of happy deer or an old-timer workin’ the land with his Ford 9N. I think of it as a happy place — a veritable caricature of a Vermont valley. And it’s the perfect introduction to the Tunbridge Fair, the gol-darndest, knee slappin’est fair that man ever invented — or was it man? Heck, I’d quicker think the Tunbridge Fair was invented by God in that same light mood.
I went down there recently with my friends Claude Stone and Dennis White. It had poured the entire night before and as Claude’s Honda CRV wound 110’s curves that day, the countryside passed by through intermittent swipes of the wiper blades. For some reason that age-old adage “rain b’fore seven, shine b’fore eleven” wasn’t kicking in but the three of us kept our good cheer — had to, considerin’ where we were.
We were just beyond Tunbridge village where you can look down over the fair and its “green field” parking lots when I said “might have ta get towed out t’day.” Quicker’n a scary carnival ride, Claude was chuckling and pointing to a big tow truck pulling on a stuck yellow school bus. And we would find that the wrecker was employed for the whole day, pulling out one car after another.
Claude turned right onto a mud road and followed the direction of bedraggled parking attendants to a place within sight of that tow truck. We got out and walked carefully from one high spot to another toward the entrance gate. We waited, hunched in a short line until it was my turn to pay. “Ten dollars, or if you’re a senior over 65, eight”, the girl said. It was the first time since I turned 65 back in March that I had actually had to face this. Burr Morse, a senior citizen? I hesitated, torn by the contrasts of feeling like a “thirty-something,” my Yankee craving for a deal, and stark reality. “Sir?” the girl persisted. Suddenly I boomed, in total disregard of my “light mood.” “No, by God, I’m payin’ $10!”
For a few seconds, you could have heard a pin drop there at the Tunbridge Fair and, I might add, the dropping of my two confirmed senior buddies’ jaws. I shrugged embarrassingly, trying to sink a little deeper into the mud. “Just excited, I guess,” was my feeble explanation.
We went on to have a soggy but great time at the fair, starting appropriately on Antique Hill, the fair’s “higher ground.” Antique Hill provides everything from the stillness of horse-drawn hearses to the coughing “putt-putt” of one-lunger engines and, I might add, real volunteer old-timers doing tasks the way they use to be done. Next, we walked downhill past gawdy gaming stands and ticket booths for the rides. When we got to the first food stand, none of us three could resist. We shelled out seven dollars apiece for a heavenly sweet sausage smothered in onions and peppers.
Paved paths (yes, the inner fair was planned for a rainy day) led us on through the farm animal barns. A fair’s not a fair without critters of every moo, squawk, and squeak and the Tunbridge Fair does animals best of all. We marveled over huge, gentle oxen, smiled at the cute baby goats, and guffawed at chickens with colored frizzy hair. On through Floral Hall we went with its varied offerings of biggest pumpkin, prettiest gladiolus, and tastiest tarts. Across the dirt racetrack, today very muddy, we found a huge building offering everything from infrared saunas to snow-plowing four-wheelers. We leaned in under open hoods and peered into plush cabs but left laughing; the thought that we could ever afford one was as funny as those chickens.
Finally, we had seen it all and slogged back toward our car. Remarkably, Claude made it out to the main road without help from the tow truck (thank God for four-wheel-drive). The rain still came down as we turned north toward home. In spite of mud-splattered pant cuffs and a soggy discomfort, the three of us, two seniors and one “undeclared,” made our way back through the rolling meadows and maple-clad dumplings. Happy — had to be!
Burr Morse lives in East Montpelier.
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